Like the Cleveland Browns, the Pittsburgh Steelers own what is also one of the most unique helmets in pro football. Like the Browns, the Steelers go logoless, but unlike the Browns, they have a helmet logo. They’re the only team in the NFL that only puts their logo on one side of the helmet.
Of the thirty-one teams with a helmet logo, the Steelers’ design is arguably the most unique since it’s neither a drawing, set of letters, nor a caricature of any type; but it’s derived from an actual corporate logo, something not seen in the NFL or in any of the four major North American sports.
For this reason, the Steelers are unique in many, many ways.
Speaking of Logos
Their helmet logo stems from Steelmark, the logo that represents steel and the steel industry owned by the American Iron and Steel Institute which can be viewed in its entirety here.
The team adopted the colors of black and gold, which also serves as the City of Pittsburgh’s colors and also that of their two other sports teams, the MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates and the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.
Again, you can’t really go for such uniqueness anywhere in sports today, for a team to represent their city colors, plus bear a logo that represented the city’s primary industry for decades; perhaps no other team’s helmet and color scheme hits home more than the Steelers perhaps rivaled only by the Browns, whose name stems from legendary Ohio coach Paul Brown and his team’s color scheme, borrowed from Bowling Green State University, a major university located not incredibly far from Cleveland.
Enough chit chat, as they say here in Pittsburgh, let’s get yinz down to the helmet history!
Early Helmet History: 1933-1967
For most of their early history, the Steelers used what appears to be an all-gold leatherhead before switching to an all-gold helmet with a plastic shell in 1960.
Before 1960, the Steelers had a rather turbulent history. Here’s a brief timeline:
In 1933, the team used gold (yellow) leatherheads.
Come 1935, the team then-known as the Pittsburgh Pirates used a yellow leatherhead with black winged look, kind of a resemblance to the University of Michigan.
In 1937, the Pirates used a black and yellow-patterned leatherhead.
From 1938-1940, the Pirates used gold leatherheads again. Note that in 1940, the Pirates changed their name to the Steelers.
In 1941, the team added white leatherheads, which turned to black in 1942.
In 1943, the team merged with the Philadelphia Eagles and became the ‘Steagles’ for a year, adopting the Eagles’ uniform. This merger was due to a shortage of players from World War II.
In 1944, they merged with the Chicago Cardinals to become Card-Pitt. They would adopt the Cardinals’ look that year.
From 1945 to 1956, the Steelers opted for plain yellow helmets, which continued when they introduced plastic shells as well, adding a helmet stripe in 1954.
From 1957-1961, the Steelers added black numbers to the sides of their helmet.
In 1962, Steelers’ owner Art Rooney introduced the unique Steelmark logo but wished to test the look on the gold helmet before adopting it full-time. Therefore, Rooney instructed equipment manager Jack Hart to place the logo on the right side of the helmet. The look was immediately popular with fans, which motivated the team to keep the look full-time and it remains so today.
Also, for the 1962 Playoff Bowl, a consolation game to determine the NFL’s 3rd place team, black helmets came into the fold for the first time.
In 1963, the current logo came into the mold, as the Steelers were granted permission to add the letters ‘ers’ to the current Steel wordmark shown in the logo. Also, the orange asteroid was changed to red.
You can view the classic Steelers’ look here.
Subtle Changes: 1967-Present
Like their rivals, the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers have only made slight changes to the helmet since the 1967 change, when they switched the helmet’s color from gold to black, with the black helmet stripe changing to gold.
Only the facemask has changed since the helmet redesign, going from gray to black in the early 1970s.
The look has become one of the most recognized worldwide, especially after the collapse of the steel industry in America during the latter half of the 20th century. Coupled with the Steelers’ success over the past 47 years, many left Pittsburgh and took their team’s heritage with them all over the nation and these days, worldwide.
It’s not uncommon to see several Steeler fans in every part of the US for this reason, as many can trace their familial roots back to the City of Pittsburgh.
The look is rather iconic, I must say, and it’s another reason the Steelers share a rivalry with the Cleveland Browns, as each teams’ helmet and for the most part, uniforms have remained traditional, both receiving modernized upgrades even during Cleveland’s 2015 redesign.
Like the Browns, the Steelers can link today’s players with the Steel Curtain dynasty of the 1970s, as players like Juju Smith-Schuster and James Connor have worn the same look as players like Franco Harris and Lynn Swann.
At the very least, I respect teams who follow such a mantra.
The Steelers’ timeless look will continue to link old school fans with new fans, and players of old with players of today. It will continue to link players Terry Bradshaw to Neil O’Donnell to Ben Roethlisberger to whomever takes the reins in the future, but it also links coaches like Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin under one black and yellow banner and logo.
I would be very surprised to see the Steelers change their helmet or logo, even if the NFL lifted the multiple helmet rule and Nike (or whatever brand the NFL goes with in the future) pressured teams into using multiple helmets.
The Rooneys were vocal back in 2002 when Reebok became the primary manufacturer and stated each of the 31 existing teams and the new Houston Texans would all get new uniforms. Their vocalness, along with other traditional teams, caused Reebok to shoot down their plans.
And for good reason.